Hawks to Watch: Danny Caine, poet and bookstore owner

Why Danny’s a Hawk to Watch

Downtown Lawrence, you’re walking north on Mass on a sweltering sunny Sunday in mid-summer. You’re stuffed from brunch at Merchants. Head buzzing from too much coffee mixed with more than one mimosa, legs aching from that early morning run you’re trying to make a habit. Right on 7th, cross the road, through a glass door and you enter a world where stories and poems line the walls, bright posters announce visits from writers you know and want to know. A curled-up cat purrs in a hollowed-out television, another comes out to greet you. “Meow.” You grab a book, a novel that will make you laugh and cry, and settle for a moment in the cinema seats by the window. Phew. Stimulating calm. You’re in The Raven Book Store, owned and run by published poet and Kansas Humanities advocate Danny Caine.

Danny’s journey to own a bookstore took a few turns. As a poet, he’s always loved books. After college he started teaching high school. But a few years in he began to fall out of love with teaching and decided to do an MFA in Creative Writing. In 2014, he arrived at the University of Kansas, found a home in Lawrence and graduated with an MFA in Creative Writing (Poetry) in 2017.

KU’s graduate program in creative writing proved to be the perfect foundation for Danny’s success as a poet – he published his first chapbook Uncle Harold’s Maxwell House Haggadah in 2017, and has two forthcoming publications. In the program, he also picked up design skills, got involved with promoting and organizing literary events, and took a part-time job at The Raven, gaining the necessary experience that would lead him to buy the store when it came available in 2017.

Danny has made The Raven more than a bookstore. It’s a key cog in Lawrence’s artistic and literary community, bringing some of the best writers in America to Lawrence and building partnerships with the The Commons at the University of Kansas, the Lawrence Arts Center and with the Lawrence Public Library. By maintaining a space housing a wide and diverse range of books and through collaborative events, The Raven Book Store helps build connections between people in our community to chat, share and learn.

Tell us in a sentence or two what you do for a living:

I’m the author of two forthcoming poetry collections, Continental Breakfast (Mason Jar Press 2019) and El Dorado Freddy’s (collaboration with Tara Wray, Belt Publishing 2020).

“I own the Raven Book Store in downtown Lawrence, which means I sell books while working to convince people that it’s important to support locally-owned, independent, brick & mortar retailers.”
Photo by Mercedes Lucero

What do you feel is your biggest achievement so far?

It’s hard to say—since graduating from KU, I’ve had a lot of great moments. Buying the bookstore, of course, and helping it stay successful. I’m also super proud of The Raven’s community partnerships. We partner with Lawrence Public Library and Lawrence Arts Center on many great events.

"The Raven has also teamed up with The Commons at KU to create a reading series where we regularly cram hundreds of people into Liberty Hall to see America’s best poets, and every time I see that I’m amazed."

Something that’s still unbelievable for me to say out loud is that I have two books coming out in the next few years. Oh yeah, I also recently welcomed my first child. Any one of those things could be my proudest achievement.

What’s your lowest career moment and how did you pick yourself up and move on?

I used to be a teacher, and there were many moments that convinced me it wasn’t the right job for me. I won’t go into too many details. I’ll just say I had to chaperone prom and homecoming dances.

Where do you hope to be in 10 years?

I certainly hope I’ll be in the bookselling field in some capacity, if not right here at the Raven in Lawrence.

Photo by Danny Caine

What do you know now that you wish you could tell your 18-year-old self?

“Stop being such a picky eater, it’s not worth it”

What’s your best career pro-tip?

"I think the most important thing for writers to do is to read. Don’t forget to read. Read genres other than the one you write. I spend much more time reading than I do writing."How did your KU degree prepare you for your current job?

The creative writing graduate program at KU allowed me the flexibility to pursue other interests in addition to poetry. The poetry mentorship and guidance obviously helped me a great deal; my first book, Continental Breakfast, is a revised version of my thesis. But I also earned a graduate book arts certificate, and every day I use the design skills I picked up in that program. I also helped run the Creative Writing Graduate Student Reading Series, and got involved with the Taproom Poetry Series. The skills of promoting and hosting a literary event are perhaps the most relevant of all—I’m constantly working to improve the Raven’s author event experience, and for that I draw on skills I learned in grad school.


“The creative writing graduate program at KU allowed me the flexibility to pursue other interests in addition to poetry.”
Photo by Stephan Anderson-Story

What’s your best KU memory?

Zadie Smith gave a Hall Center lecture in December 2015. She is my all-time favorite novelist. My wife hadn’t read any of Smith’s books, so on our trip home for Thanksgiving we both read On Beauty at the same time. To avoid fighting over who got to read it, we each read our own copy, and we tried to go at the same speed. In the autograph line, we told this story to Zadie. She said, “oh, you’re such dorks.” If I’d never gone to KU, my favorite novelist would’ve never called me a dork.

What do you do after you’ve clocked out?

I always read a lot of books. These days, I also do a lot of reading to my son, who’s two months old. Alas, he can’t read yet, but he at least loves to look at the pictures.

What is a fun fact about you that surprises people?

I’m a dog person and I always have been. Despite that, I currently have zero dogs and three cats: the Raven’s store cats, Dashiell and Ngaio, plus my exceptionally surly home cat, Benson.

Learn more about Danny Caine, The Raven Book Store, and Danny’s chapbook Uncle Harold’s Maxwell House Haggadah

Be like Danny. Here’s more information on KU’s Graduate Program in Creative Writing.

Hawks to Watch are disrupters. They’re poised for greatness, inspiring their colleagues and excelling in their professions. Basically, they’re killing it. Having recently graduated, they are just starting to leave their mark and we can’t wait to see how their story unfolds. These Jayhawks span all industries including business, non-profits, tech, healthcare, media, law and the arts.